Today, IT is on the brink of a couple of important evolutionary—maybe even revolutionary—steps. At one end of the spectrum, there’s the cloud. The cloud represents a return to a more centralized computing model, in which a cloud provider delivers the control of massive amounts of computing power. At the complete opposite end of the spectrum is the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend, in which end users want to choose and use their own low-powered phones, devices, and tablets to access both their corporate resources and their personal data. It's ironic that these two seemingly opposite trends are developing at the same time. One is about massive scalability and relinquishing control, and the other is about individual choice and personal control.
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Slow Going and Fast Moving
The trend toward the cloud is a much slower-growing movement because of a number of factors, including security and the inherent difficulty of changing infrastructure services. However, the proliferation of end user devices in business environments is exploding just as the number of small-form-factor devices is exploding worldwide. The BYOD trend was initially kicked off by Apple’s iPhone, which quickly usurped the then-predominant BlackBerry. After that, the introduction of Google’s Android and later the iPad really pushed devices over the top. And you know what happens after users have new devices in their hot little hands: They want to connect them to IT applications, email, and other resources. Gartner estimates that more than half of the adults in the in the United States own a smartphone, and we all know that percentage is much higher with people who work in the technology field.
What hasn’t kept pace is IT’s ability to support the devices that users want—both from a management standpoint and an application-development standpoint. Very few companies have standardized on a mobile platform. End users expect a certain level of support from IT, yet each device has different characteristics and capabilities. Ideally, end users want to access email and web applications. They want IT to have the ability to wipe the device if it’s lost. They also want the ability to decommission the device without deleting all their personal data. For Microsoft Windows infrastructures, System Center Configuration Manager and InTune provide the ability to manage multiple devices, including iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. Configuration Manager and InTune use administrator-defined policies for each device, which is a great start. However, each of the different client devices exposes a unique set of capabilities, making some more manageable than others.
The Development Challenge
That said, the biggest challenge for BYOD support is on the development side. Users want a native app experience for each type of device, but each mobile platform has a different development API. Which means you need different development skill sets for each platform. Cross-platform development is the Holy Grail of mobile applications. Today, only Xamarin offers a cross-platform development experience with C# as the development language. Other mobile development options that have been successful are cross-platform mobile web applications that use a technology such as jQuery Mobile, but these don’t offer full native device support.
Does the client matter? I think the answer is both yes and no. On one hand, it’s clear that the client is going to be the driver of a new breed of applications that can span multiple devices and form factors. So, from that perspective, the client clearly is important. However, on the other hand, I think it will be a given that in the future IT will be required to support the ever-growing gamut of popular devices, and any given specific type of client won’t really matter. This scenario will put a greater burden on both IT administrators and application developers, but this is one of today’s fastest-growing markets and new technologies are emerging that will help enable multiple device support and development.